Microbial stamp could help track E. coli outbreaks

January 25, 2021 |

In New York, start-up Aanika Biosciences is developing biological tags that can help authorities pinpoint the source of deadline E. coli outbreaks. 

The company’s technology tweaks the genome of inactivated microbe, essentially creating a unique identifier that is then added to each head of lettuce to enable tracking. 

The Centers for Disease Control often struggles to identify the source of E. coli outbreaks because numerous farms and distributors serve facilities that package salad mix for consumer sale. The source of a recent outbreak in December, for example, was never determined. The source of a 2018 outbreak that killed five people could only be tracked to its region of origin—Yuma, Arizona—but could not be narrowed down to a farm or distributor. 

“You’ve got a ton of different farms all flowing to a processing plant where it’s washed and packaged, and then that goes to multiple distributors and then thousands of end products and customers,” Vishaal Bhuyan, cofounder and CEO of Aanika Biosciences, tells Fast Company. “When you have an outbreak, you can take one step quickly, because you have a serial number on the bag. But once you try to figure out what farms are in that bag, it becomes extremely difficult.”

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Category: Chemicals & Materials

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